FEBRUARY: BLACK HISTORY MONTH (Inoculation introduced to America)

February 12th, 2018 by Goshen Public Library Leave a reply »

Inoculation was introduced to America by a slave.  Few details are known about the birth of Onesimus, but it is assumed he was born in Africa in the late 17th century before eventually landing in Boston. One of a thousand people of African descent living in the Massachusetts colony, Onesimus was a gift to the Puritan church minister, Cotton Mather, from his congregation in 1706.

Onesimus told Mather about the centuries-old tradition of inoculation practiced in Africa.  By extracting the material from an infected person & scratching it into the skin of an uninfected person, one could deliberately introduce smallpox to the healthy individual, making them immune to smallpox.  Considered extremely dangerous at the time, Cotton Mather convinced Dr. Zabdiel Boylston to experiment with the procedure when a smallpox epidemic hit Boston in 1721 & over 240 people were inoculated.  Opposed politically, religiously, & medically in America & abroad, public reaction to the experiment put Mather’s & Boylston’s lives in danger despite records indicating that only 2% of patients requesting inoculation died compared to the 15% of people not inoculated who contracted smallpox.

Onesimus’ traditional African practice was used to inoculate American soldiers during the Revolutionary War & introduced the concept of inoculation to America.

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